Ash harnessed their teenage angst and energy and built a career on it, as you can hear on Teenage Wildlife, a career-spanning, hit-filled compilation album.
Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years of Ash
14 February 2020
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, is widely attributed with coining the phrase, "youth is wasted on the young." If you're of a certain age, you're now nodding your head sagely. If you were born this century, however, you're probably not even reading this, as you're surfing the world wide interweb on your home computer, playing Pac-man at the arcade, or maybe even skateboarding. What you should be doing is listening to Teenage Wildlife – the career-spanning, hit-filled compilation album from Ash. Hey kids, get hip!
The three founder members of Ash were 17 years old when they cut their first mini-album, Trailer in 1994. When their debut album 1977 was released, they were all of 19. They seemed impossibly young, and they sounded it, too. They wrote songs with titles like "Kung Fu", "Uncle Pat", and "Hulk Hogan Bubblebath" and played them with the amphetamine laden energy that only teenagers can really pull off. In amongst the dubious lyrics, the diligently strummed power chords and the homages to the Undertones and Buzzcocks, are a bunch of truly great tunes. Teenage Wildlife scoops up some of the best examples in one, neat package. Well, three to be precise: a "just the hits" double vinyl album, a "hits plus" version on two CDs, and an "if you really must have everything" triple CD, which apparently, has lenticular artwork. Fancy.
The noise Ash made on a good day, defined UK alternative pop-rock in the 1990s. If you boiled down a decade of pop culture to just one tune, that tune would be "Burn Baby Burn". It's a song bursting with hooks that stick out at crazy angles to everything else. It's almost perfect. It's that approach which forms the core of the Ash sound – everything stripped back, so only the good stuff remains. If you thought that the Ramones were a cartoon version of a punk group, then Ash are a cartoon version of the Ramones. Generally, the tunes on this compilation are uptempo, memorable, indie-disco classics. If you were deejaying at a student event at any time in the 1990s and you didn't drop "Girl From Mars", there would be trouble. Big trouble.
Occasionally, the band veers away from the program, slightly – "Heroin Vodka White Noise" is a nicely brooding mid-tempo piece with a menacing feel that's almost unique for them. It's still got a tune you can whistle, though. Pretty much everything else on Teenage Wildlife is "A" grade pop-punk that will have middle-aged, former indie kids throughout the western world, throwing themselves around their living rooms and breaking their Parker Knoll Recliners. Tears will be shed over receding hairlines and expanding waistlines, but not even Ash can help out with those.
Dotted among the familiar tunes are a handful of covers, including the obligatory version of "Teenage Kicks". I think it's the law that if you're in a band from Northern Ireland, you have to record this at least once in your career. It's OK, but trying to get even close to the crystalline perfection of the original is doomed to failure. Their version of Buzzcocks "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" fares better. However, the decision to record a cover of Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again" may have been a great idea on a drunken night out, but once you've gotten over the hangover, their version is… not great. However, pretty much all of the rest of Teenage Wildlife is terrific fun.
The great thing about Ash is that they managed to control the energy they had as hormone-energized teenagers and sustain it throughout their career. "Annabel" (included here) from their 2018 album Islands, could almost have come from 1977. The tempo is slightly less brisk, the approach a touch more considered, but it still packs the same primal punch. Maybe, youth is only wasted on the young if they don't do anything good with it. Ash harnessed their teenage angst and energy and built a career on it, laden with good things. Time well spent, I'd say.